Grassroots Advocacy is a Group Effort

Associations and member firms work together and independently to push transportation investment

by Mark Holan and Eileen Houlihan

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This past spring ARTBA launched a digital media campaign that allows members and their supporters to connect with Congress through email, Twitter and Facebook.

By tapping their ZIP code into a smartphone or tablet on the Phone2Action platform, transportation investment advocates have sent more than 6,100 messages about the importance of fixing the Highway Trust Fund and passing a long-term surface transportation bill to their state’s two U.S. Senators and the U.S. Representative from their community. All 100 senators and 97 percent of representatives have Facebook and Twitter accounts, in addition to their regular email.

“Phone2Action can be used very easily,” said Matt Jeanneret, ARTBA senior vice president of communications and marketing. “Many of our members are out in the field, but virtually everyone has a smartphone. It takes less than a minute to send a message to their elected leaders using this state-of-the-art digital platform.”

But ARTBA is hardly alone in trying to leverage grassroots support for transportation investment. Other associations and private companies are also creating campaigns that combine the latest technology with more traditional advocacy tools, from airing radio and television commercials in the home states and districts of congressional committee leaders, to buttonholing key senators and representatives back home or on Capitol Hill.

This year, ARTBA has partnered with the Transportation Construction Coalition (which it co-chairs with Associated General Contractors), American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Transportation Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition on cooperative advertising and media campaigns, and online petitions. Like-minded industry groups and firms are amplifying the call for transportation investment as they advance their own issues with Congress, the general public and in the marketplace.

For example, the “I Make America” (IMA) campaign of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), promotes pro- manufacturing messages through a dedicated website, Twitter feed and other tools.

“We’ve always been champions for a long-term solution for the Highway Trust Fund because it is essential to our members’ prosperity,” AEM President Dennis Slater said. “Construction equipment manufacturers make the equipment that build America’s roads, and they need consistent investment to thrive.”

Don’t Let America Dead End
The IMA campaign has resonated with the grassroots “from the shop floor to the corner office,” Slater said, because it taps individuals’ pride in their work and highlights the industry’s contributions to the national economy. The campaign has generated over 140,000 emails to members of Congress and President Obama.

A large portion of those emails have come from the “Don’t Let America Dead End” advocacy campaign of Tennessee-based equipment manufacturer Astec Industries, Inc., which links online to IMA. Astec’s campaign also features six “Highway Bill” videos featuring the “Hi-Way Bill” character. The “Dead End” site has attracted more than 12,400 users and almost 30,000 page views since its inception last fall.

“We need all the industries that support and use America’s highways—construction, road paving, material production and others—to help us reach out to federal-elected representatives via email, phone calls and visits to share why it’s necessary to fund highway investment,” Astec President & CEO Ben Brock said at the start of his firm’s campaign. “It’s up to us to show our collective influence and educate our representation on the positive effects of passing a long-term highway bill with increased funding.”

Dire States
Wisconsin-based CASE Construction Equipment also seeks to “revive America’s ailing infrastructure” by championing local investment opportunities and highlighting successful funding initiatives. The company’s advocacy effort is called “Dire States.”

Last year, the campaign conducted a six-day, 14-city tour across Texas to support Proposition 1, which called for shifting a portion of the state’s oil and gas severance tax revenues to its transportation fund. Dire States also joined forces with other industry groups and transportation advocates to generate newspaper op-eds, advertisements and a mix of mainstream and trade press coverage that helped the measure to pass.

“Using our time in Texas, the [Department of Transportation] was able to effectively communicate local projects where Prop 1 money was going to be directed, making the ‘better roads’ statement more local and relatable to the constituents,” said Brian Weisbaum, Dire States’ project manager.

Weisbaum said social media has been a huge part of the effort, sharing both original content, such as videos, and infrastructure-related news. The advocacy effort also has aligned with ARTBA on the education front.

“ARTBA does an excellent job of generating content that shows both the need for infrastructure investment and the successes that specific state and local governments are experiencing,” Weisbaum said. “We regularly amplify that content and information through our social media channels as it aligns directly with the intent of Dire States: through understanding and awareness comes action.”

Brad Stemper, one of Weisbaum’s Case Construction colleagues, briefed ARTBA’s 2nd Annual National Workshop for State & Local Transportation Advocates this past summer in Washington. He described transportation funding as “our most important domestic issue.”

Georgia-based TenCate Geosynthetics Americas, facing a slowdown in global oil exploration, also focused more attention on the transportation sector. The firm joined ARTBA in 2014 and quickly partnered with the association on grassroots education and outreach, including government affairs webinars, updates on transportation policy via newsletters and articles, issue briefings by company leadership at staff meetings, encouraging employees to put the “Transportation Construction Advocate App” on their iPhones, plus peer-to-peer outreach with front office and manufacturing employees.

Wally Moore, Tencate’s global group director, received this year’s Paul F. Phelan Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to ARTBA’s Materials and Services Division and the transportation construction industry, in part for his work to implement such grassroots action programs.

“Our connection with ARTBA is part of ongoing actions to be more market-focused, and the American transportation infrastructure market is a big and logical place to focus,” Moore said.

“I have noted that there are many good ideas which a leader can delegate effectively, but I think industry associations is probably not one of these. I therefore decided that if our most important market application of transportation infrastructure was to get good attention it would need my commitment and involvement.”

The company faced challenges in getting the word out to factory workers who work in multiple around-the-clock shifts. Employees typically don’t want to have their break interrupted by a presentation or sign up process. But they understood the importance of how the highway bill affects the company, said Daniel Trope, TenCate’s director of government relations.

“Never underestimate the interest your employees will have in getting involved,” he said. “Most of them really want to take action if they believe in the cause.”

These are just a few examples of how our industry is working to influence the public discussion about transportation investment and push lawmakers to vote for legislation that benefits our communities and our nation. Our job is not done and we need more help. Please join us.


Is your firm, agency or state chapter leading a grassroots effort advocating for increased transportation investment?  If so, please share your story with ARTBA for inclusion in a future “Washington Newsline” or “Transportation Builder” magazine.  Contact ARTBA’s Mark Holan: mholan@artba.org.


Mark Holan is ARTBA editorial director. Eileen Houlihan is ARTBA senior writer/editor

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